The internet is a big and anonymous place… or is it? As you would have probably guessed, it is very far from that. When we surf the web, interact with different apps and websites and buy stuff online, we are almost the opposite from anonymous. Each and every step and action we take is monitored and tracked, and this data being gathered may and will be used against us by more people and companies than we would probably like.
We are tracked by many parameters, but mainly by our Internet Protocol Address, or in short – our IP address.
Each device connected to the Internet has an IP address through which it communicates. Let’s look at it as our mailbox. When sending a letter to this and that company, we write our address on the back of it. It is exactly the same when surfing the web. When we send a request for data from a website or an online resource, our IP Address is sent as part of this request.
Usually, our IP Address is assigned by our Internet Service Provider, so it is not our choice what address we will be using. This also means that we can be tracked and identified by companies and law enforcement agencies.
Each IP Address (In the old and common IPv4 format) is made of 4 sets of 255 numbers, for example: 22.214.171.124. In different networks the different numbers in this 4-set collection have different meaning, but we will not go into that today.
As you can probably calculate, IP addresses are limited in their number (4.3 Billion). What happens when we will use all of them?
These days (started in 2017), IPv6 is starting to replace the old and common IPv4 addresses. IPv6 is made of 8 parts, each with 65,535 options, or approximately 3.4 x 10^38.
There are so many websites that use our IP addresses in order to track us, manipulate our surfing experience and in total, make a valuable profit out of our internet experience. This is done by either manipulating the prices for services we pay for (such as a flight ticket) or selling our surfing data to companies which will in turn try to market their product/services to us.
If we are interested in scraping or parsing data from websites, our IP address will be used against us to block our repetitive attempts to fetch data from a certain website.
As mentioned above – we send our IP Address to allow a website to return data to our device. But how do they know who I am? Very simple. Each Address is registered, and the identity of its holder can easily be retrieved.
What if I want some anonymity when surfing? Well it can be done by changing your IP address.
If you want to change your IP address on a computer or even change your phone address, it is rather easy these days, and it can be done by a something called a Proxy Server.
The Proxy Server acts like a messenger in the old days. We send it our request with our real address. The messenger then sends our request to the original website we wish to reach (exactly the request we have issued but with its own IP Address for the return mail). The website then thinks it is the proxy server who is fetching this data and sending the response back to it. The proxy server, knowing our original IP address, will then directly forward the response from that website to us.
There are many tools, such as browser extensions, that can change our IP address without us even noticing it. Some of them require a subscription but some are completely free. You should notice though, that the free services almost exclusively provide low quality addresses. Since they are free, a lot of people use the same addresses so they are slow, have many connection issues and most of them are blocked by many websites you might like to surf.
Of course. This is the same as changing our IP address on a computer. There are a lot of apps out there that connect our phone to a Proxy Server (most modern phones’ operating systems even support this out of the box). We then can surf the web or even use mobile apps through a different address, rather anonymously.
If you are a programmer or are creating a large-scale program that will need access to many resources of a website and app, you would probably anticipate being blocked by this website or app due to irregular and suspicious activity.
Well, there is a solution for that also. Using an API (Application Programming Interface) for your web requests can leverage not only one different IP address than yours, but thousands and millions of different addresses. Using such services allow advanced computer programmers to constantly change their IP address and never get blocked by the websites they are communicating with.